Rome’s Chief Rabbi Ready to Join Pope on Israel Visit

There are conflicting accounts regarding when — or even if — the pope will visit Israel.

An Italian newspaper recently quoted Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff as saying he had agreed to Pope John Paul II’s suggestion that they travel together to Israel within the next two years.

In an interview last week with the Rome daily La Repubblica, Toaff said the pope personally told him that he wanted to visit Jerusalem “before the end of the century.”

“I told him that I would welcome him in Jerusalem,” Toaff was quoted as saying. He added that when the pope suggested that they travel there together, “I told him certainly, if he wanted, I would be at his disposal for a trip together to the Holy Land.”

But a senior Vatican official said there was little likelihood the pope would make such a trip while peace talks with the Palestinians are stalled and tensions run high in Jerusalem.

“Is it possible that this could happen in today’s environment? I would say no, because the pope would be seen to be sanctioning a situation of international injustice,” Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s foreign minister, told reporters after the interview with Toaff was published.

Tauran deplored the standstill in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and said he feared “dramatic developments” in the Middle East.

The pope has long stated his desire to visit the Holy Land, and particularly Jerusalem, as part of celebrations marking the year 2000. The Catholic Church has designated 2000 a holy year marking the start of the third millennium of Christianity.

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